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Landlord & Tenant Law in Florida

Landlord Tenant Law – How to Get Your Florida Security Deposit Refunded

How to Get you Security Deposit back from the Landlord

Your lease is finally over and you are moving to your new home.  On moving day, you find out that security deposit from your rental is NOT going to be returned. Your landlord has no plans to return the money. In fact, he claims he’s entitled to keep it to repair the damage you did to his property. You feel that you left the place just as you found it. You even fixed a few things with your own money.

Security deposit disputes are one of the most common issues brought before small claims judges. In Florida small claims courts handles cases which are below $5,000.00.  You have to pay a filing fee and a charge to have the law suit “served” on the landlord.  These fees vary from county to county but they are reimbursed if you win.

Unlike most cases, you usually represent yourself in a small claims case. The only hitch is that not having an attorney means you will have to put in a good amount of work on your own and you may be surprised when you walk into court and your landlord has hired an attorney.

The first step to initiating a small claims action is filing your complaint. Remember, you have a time limit within which to file. In Florida, a written lease action has a five year limit and an oral or verbal lease has a four year limit.

Now that you have handled the technical details, it is time to write down why you are suing, otherwise known as the claim. This paragraph is basically a short narrative explaining to the judge what exactly happened.

You should take this opportunity to tell your side of the story. But, first things first. Take some time to investigate the law of security deposits so that you can figure out what you are actually entitled to under the law. It would be a great waste of time if you went to court only to find out your landlord was entitled to the whole thing.

Once you have finished researching, explain what your landlord may have done wrong. This is not the time for meandering rants on the cracked concrete in your apartment parking lot. Use this complaint as an opportunity to put together a solid argument using any related evidence or documents you have, but keep it short and to the point.

Once filed, you’ll get a case number and preliminary hearing date. The landlord will receive a notice from the court served by a process server.

Before going to court, collect any receipts, work orders, photos or diagrams that document work done or not done on the unit. If you did any repairs or paid for any repairs while you lived in the apartments, make sure you can produce receipts. Also, try to find any written requests you may have made for repairs, especially if the repairs weren’t done.  Review your rental agreement, particularly any portions that address repairs, wear and tear. Look for words clarifying what you as the tenant were responsible for during your lease term. Typically, tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear and deposits cannot be used for this type of work. For example, if the landlord replaces carpets in the entryway because they were worn; this does not come out of your deposit. But if he or she replaces the carpet because it was filled with tears and spots from your dog Spot, you are responsible for the damage. Try to present how well you took care of the apartment and what condition you kept it in. Prepare pictures depicting how the apartment looked while you lived there. If you were neat and clean, this could help disprove the landlord’s claim you damaged the property.

On the appointed day of the preliminary hearing, make sure you are a few minutes early, that you are dressed nicely, (not formal – but respectfully), and that you realize that you may have some waiting to do.  When the judge calls the case and you move towards the front of the courtroom, let the judge ask the questions and you answer them, politely and briefly.  Small claims judges are very experienced and they have heard many cases just like yours – so they know what they want from you.  After a few preliminary questions you will most likely be asked to meet with a court mediator.  This is usually an unpaid retired attorney who has volunteered for this job.  The mediator will take you and your landlord (and his lawyer – if he has one) into a private room and ask each of you for your “story.”  Be polite and be brief.  The mediator has no power to decide the case, but they can be very informative and they will try to help you settle the case without the necessity of a trial, which you could lose or win.  A settlement where you get most of what you want is better than a trial that you lose.  If you settle – then the mediator will report this to the court, some papers will be signed and you are done.  If not, the clerk will provide you with a date for the trial.

On the day of the trial, if you have witnesses, they should make their statements quickly and clearly. One note, in small claims court, it is necessary that witnesses attend the court session.  Now that you are actually in court, remember, the amount of evidence you have is as important as what you say to the judge. Quickly explain why you believe you are entitled to your deposit back. Make sure you can back up any statements you make with documents. Keep in mind the person sitting on the bench will have a full caseload; many of them with stories just like yours.

Small claims court is a great way to protect your rights. It is relatively quick and painless. Remember, the more effort you put into preparing your case, the more you are likely to get out of it while in court.

As an alternative, you may want to confer with an attorney before starting this process.  Many attorneys do not charge for an initial consulation or they may charge a small nominal fee.  In this fashion you can have an expert look at your situation and your evidence and point out problems well in advance.

If you have any question regarding small claims, If you have any question regarding divorce, child support, spousal support, etc. our firm may be able to help you.  Please contact Jupiter Legal Advocates at info@jla.legal for further information and assistance. our firm may be able to help you.

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email us at:  info@jla.legal